Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those few films that we look back on with fascination. Even 34 years later, the film still sets a high bar that most CGI movies today can’t touch by seamlessly blending live-action film and old-school, hand-drawn, cell-by-cell animation.  

Before CGI and green screens became the norm in the industry to make most visual effects fairly easy to accomplish, filmmakers had to get creative by blending animation with reality or through practical effects. Who Framed Roger Rabbit pushed the technology and its director, Robert Zemeckis, into greatness through its use of convincing eye lines between humans and the characters, unrestricted camera movements, and finding ways to move real-life props handled by animated characters realistically. 

All the Right Movies shared a behind-the-scenes video of cinematographer Dean Cundey explaining how the team behind the film found innovative ways to blend real props into the animation. Through the use of puppetry and engineering experimentation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit successfully combined two separate worlds into one. Let's break down how they did it. 

How Animated Characters Used Real-World Props 

There are a few key moments that highlight the innovative nature of the film. 

For Baby Herman’s cigar, mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs built a sophisticated rig that was the same length as Baby Herman’s arm and would control it with a remote attached to his arm. Although the rig only had limited movement and looked a bit crude with the wires exposed, the animation team drew the character’s movement to match Gibb’s movement of the cigar. 

The final effect looked seamless under the cartoon. The effect was used for certain props and characters, like the weasels holding many of the other characters hostage throughout the film. 

When stiff animatronics couldn’t be used for specific scenes, puppeteers were called on to blend real props into the animated world. 

“[T]he puppeteer is used to creating life out of unreal objects,” Cundey said in the BTS interview. 

How they blended animation and real world props in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbits''Who Framed Roger Rabbit'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

David Alan Barclay became the right puppeteer for the job. Initially, Barclay was hired to puppeteer the octopus bar scene because the animators wanted to have constant flow and movement rather than using stiff mechanical rigs that they would have to paint out later. 

Using what Barclay called the “Invisible Man” technique, Barclay moved all of the objects that the octopus bartender had in its tentacles. Associate producer Steve Starkey recalled the technique as a surreal experience to watch puppeteers moving objects around as if the animated character was on set.  

Barclay’s techniques were used throughout the film to move other objects like chairs, trays, drinks, and so on. What is beautiful about this technique is that animators were able to easily go in and hand-shade every cell to create realistic shadows without having to remove or cover any wires. 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit stands apart from other films like Mary Poppins and Cool World in which the animations are interacting with the human world and are touching and manipulating real-life props. The film is a visual masterpiece that established a level of realism that no one was aiming for in 1988. Through puppeteer work and mechanical effects, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was able to blend the animated world into reality with real props. 

What are your thoughts on the puppetry in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Let us know in the comments!

Source: All The Right Movies via Twitter